Anat Cohen Tentet

Happy Song

The excellent new album by the Anat Cohen Tentet is the result of a diverse, remarkably talented cast of players, composers and arrangers. Cohen—winner of the Clarinet category in the 2017 DownBeat Critics Poll—wrote or co-wrote three of the tracks here, and the musical director for the project was Oded Lev-Ari, who arranged much of the program, including a tear-jerking rendition of Gordon Jenkins’ “Goodbye.” The centerpiece of the album is “Anat’s Doina,” a three-movement piece in which two of Cohen’s compositions bookend Lev-Ari’s arrangement of the traditional klezmer tune “Der Gasn Nigun.” Elsewhere, Cohen explores Brazilian rhythms (one of her areas of expertise) with a lively reading of Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro,” arranged for the tentet by Lev-Ari. Cohen’s clarinet work is consistently compelling throughout the program, whether she’s exploring fusion on a version of Lev-Ari’s “Trills And Thrills” (featuring a fierce electric guitar solo by Sheryl Bailey) or unleashing the toe-tapper “Oh Baby” (a swing tune that Benny Goodman recorded for Columbia in 1946). On Cohen’s arrangement of Neba Solo’s “Kenedougou Foly,” the clarinetist and her horn players engage in a wondrous dialogue, with the accompanists delivering a consistent, killer riff, and the leader responding with potent commentary. The lineup for the album includes Bailey (guitar), Rubin Kodheli (cello), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nick Finzer (trombone), Owen Broder (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), James Shipp (vibraphone, percussion), Vitor Gonçalves (piano, accordion), Tal Mashiach (bass) and Anthony Pinciotti (drums). Cohen’s Happy Song, her most ambitious album yet, gloriously accomplishes her goal of uniting people through music. She’ll take the tentet on the road for concerts in Chicago (Oct. 7), Decorah, Iowa (Nov. 4), Northridge, California (Nov. 30), San Francisco (Dec. 3) and Olympia, Washington (Dec. 4).

Johnny Rawls

Waiting For The Train

Blues/soul singer Johnny Rawls addresses both spiritual and carnal topics on his new album, Waiting For The Train. With a voice that mixes silk with grit, Rawls delivers a gospel message on “Las Vegas,” singing, “Do you believe in God/ Do you believe in Jesus/ Do you believe He’s there/ Do you believe He sees us?” Bob Trenchard—the bassist in Rawls’ band, The Rays—co-wrote six of the 10 tracks here, including the funk-flavored “California Shake,” a humorous, risqué tune in which the protagonist is disturbed by his loud neighbors: “The wall was bangin’/ The bed was creakin’/ Easy to tell that they sure wasn’t sleepin’.” Producer Jim Gaines makes judicious, graceful use of a muscular horn section on this disc. Punchy horns spice up “Rain Keep Falling (’Til I’m Free)” and “Turning Point,” thanks to Mike Middleton (trumpet), Joel Chavarria (trombone), Andy Roman (alto and tenor saxophone) and Nick Flood (tenor and baritone sax). Dan Ferguson’s lovely piano work adds heft to Rawls’ poignant reading of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” On the title track, when Rawls tenderly sings that he’s “waiting to cross over the river/ waiting to go, oh, just to be delivered,” it’s clear that the envisioned destination is in the hereafter.

Negroni’s Trio

New Era
(Sony Music Latin)

New Era is the ninth album by the Miami-based Negroni’s Trio, led by Puerto Rican pianist José Negroni and featuring his son, Nomar, on drums and Joshua Allen on bass. This is also the group’s most stylistically fluid disc to date. Jazz and Afro-Cuban are identifiable touchstones, but these musicians aren’t shy about opening the door to closely associated Latin genres, with guest artists ranging from Puerto Rican singer Pedro Capo and Brazilian vocalist Rose Max to Dominican rapper Lapiz Conciente, who adds considerable swagger to a version of “Take The ‘A’ Train.” Electronics also have an outsize influence here, much more than on previous albums by Negroni’s Trio, with pianist José taking a cool, ruminative synth solo on “Brazilian Love Affair” that reveals his prodigious jazz chops and deep-thinking melodic sense. The principal strength of Negroni’s Trio has always been its lockstep cohesion, even across moments of rhythmic complexity, and that’s still very much the case on New Era. The album is rife with examples of musical sublimation, where melodic energy is compacted and condensed, only to explode, vapor-like, as the song reaches its climax. A perfect illustration is the coda on “Sunny,” featuring Cuban vocalist/actress Aymee Nuviola (who is famous for portraying salsa legend Celia Cruz in a TV series). Nomar is positively ballistic on drums, and his whip-cracking snare adds emphatic punctuation to his father’s spitfire piano solo. More than a showcase of technical prowess, it’s a demonstration of the group’s open-eared adventurism, weaving threads of salsa, hard-bop and funk into an infrangible braid. It’s an impressive feat, and hopefully an indicator of more good things to come from this longstanding threesome.

Tom Rainey Obbligato

Float Upstream

Drummer Tom Rainey is an artist fluent in the languages of both straightahead jazz and the avant-garde. Early albums found him providing cast-iron support to mainstream artists such as pianist Fred Hersch and vocalist Roseanna Vitro, while more recent projects have planted him in exploratory bands led by saxophonist Tim Berne and violinist Mark Feldman. In 2013 Rainey recorded the album LARK (Skirl) with trumpeter/cornetist Ralph Alessi, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and pianist Kris Davis, and for the Tom Rainey Obbligato’s eponymous album in 2014, he added bassist Drew Gress. Rainey’s new album, Float Upstream, features the same lineup. The band’s mission objective has been to filter Great American Songbook standards through a light-scattering prism of avant-impressionism. Float continues in a similar vein, but it shifts the thematic focus to love songs. Lyrical content, melodic shape and harmonic structure are all fair game for Rainey’s musical abstractionism, and the results are astounding in their novelty and freshness. The standard “Stella By Starlight” is bent into angles almost unrecognizable here. The tune begins in a noir-ish mist, out of which emerge the sly, roving voices of Alessi and Laubrock. Signposts of the song’s familiar melody eventually become perceptible, landing a profound punch once it solidifies by tune’s end. “What Is This Thing Called Love?” projects a similar air of intellection, smearing the tune’s sharply delineated chord changes into a watercolor blur. Throughout, Rainey’s drumming is agile and heated. His solo on “There Is No Greater Love,” full of clattering bursts and tumbling fills, sets the stage for a vigorous round of group interplay.

Anouar Brahem

Blue Maqams

For his intriguing new quartet album, Blue Maqams, master oudist Anouar Brahem enlisted two fellow legends and a veteran player whose profile is on the rise. The lineup for this jazz-meets-world-music program includes bassist Dave Holland (with whom Brahem collaborated on the 1998 ECM album Thimar), drummer Jack DeJohnette and 56-year-old British multi-instrumentalist Django Bates, who plays piano here. ECM founder Manfred Eicher, who produced the album, suggested that Brahem consider working with Bates, whose leader debut on ECM will be out Nov. 3. In the liner notes to Blue Maqams, Brahem explains that he wanted to team up with a pianist who could help him explore new approaches to dialog involving oud and piano. Not only did Brahem find the perfect collaborator in Bates, he assembled a program of all original compositions that showcases the pianist’s gorgeous touch, with some passages featuring solo piano, as well as duo sections that highlight subtle, intelligent conversations between oud and piano. Eicher is a meticulous craftsman, as is Brahem, who describes the producer as “an extremely sensitive sculptor of sound.” The result is a program that features traditional music from Arab culture as well as more modern jazz elements. Each musician shines here. Holland uncorks a sturdy solo on “Bom Dia Rio,” a composition dating back to 1990. DeJohnette masterfully uses his cymbals as the main percussive voice on much of “Unexpected Outcome” and on parts of “La Nuit.” Bates’ beautiful playing on “The Recovered Road To Al-Sham” will certainly win him new fans and send them searching for his leader albums. Brahem will tour Europe in April, with shows scheduled for Paris, Munich and Brussels, as well as other cities.

Vince Mendoza/WDR Big Band


The superb new release Homecoming is Vince Mendoza’s fifth album to date with the WDR Big Band of Cologne, Germany. This reunion of the Grammy-winning composer/arranger/conductor with one of Europe’s finest large jazz ensembles furthers a long-running relationship that has yielded such acclaimed recordings as The Vince Mendoza/Arif Mardin Project: Jazzpaña (1992), Randy and Michael Brecker’s Some Skunk Funk (2005), Joe Zawinul’s Brown Street (2006) and Chano Domínguez’s Soleando (2015). The Homecoming project began in 2014 when Mendoza was invited to create a concert program of all-original compositions that would be performed live by the WDR Big Band and recorded for CD release. Mendoza’s familiarity with WDR’s cooperative aesthetic and his keen awareness of band members’ instrumental strengths works to everyone’s advantage on Homecoming; the long-established chemistry between composer and ensemble is palpable in the bespoke orchestrations and the overall organic vibe at work here. Mendoza employs the full sonic palette of the WDR Big Band, which under his baton becomes a virtual orchestra whose expert woodwind and brass doublers (adding flutes, piccolo, clarinets and tuba to the mix) deftly navigate his intricate, expansive charts. The trumpet and trombone sections demonstrate explosive power, world-class chops and tasteful jazz phrasing. Soloists make big, bold statements, rivaling the ensemble’s complex-but-never-excessive orchestrated passages in their emotional impact. Each of the seven extended tracks on Homecoming is a highlight in its own right—my favorites include the sunny jazz-samba “Choros #3,” the tuneful swinging waltz “Homecoming” and the funky-fusion opener, “Keep It Up.” Since the creation of Homecoming, Mendoza has been named Composer-in-Residence for the WDR Big Band. (His colleague, saxophonist Bob Mintzer—who serves on the faculty at University of Southern California with Mendoza—is currently the ensemble’s Chief Conductor.) This is great news for fans of both Mendoza and the WDR Big Band, whose latest joint project is a joyful homecoming that brims with densely interwoven musical ideas as it celebrates feelings of belonging and togetherness.

Sherman Irby

Cerulean Canvas
(Black Warrior)

From his post as lead alto saxophonist in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Sherman Irby has distinguished himself as an improviser of great artistry and wit. Drawing on the melodic language of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman and others, he crafts solos that seem more geometric than linear, full of exquisite shapes that twist, rotate and shift through harmonic space. His latest project, out Oct. 20 on his own label, blends all those historical influences—as well as his own unique saxophone aesthetic—into a relentlessly engaging album. The CD features his Momentum ensemble—with JLCO trombonist Vincent Gardner, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III—as well as two additional guests from the JLCO, trombonist Elliot Mason and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The group articulates Irby’s vision with imagination and aplomb, bringing to life the various saxophone legends whose iconic styles inform this disc: Adderley on the brawny “Racine,” Hank Crawford and Maceo Parker on the slow, smoke-infused “John Bishop Blues” and Gary Bartz and Sonny Fortune on straightahead swingers like “Blue Twirl: Portrait Of Sam Gillian.” The album also includes “SYBAD,” a touching homage to departed JLCO baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley (1927–2016). Joined by Marsalis, Irby casts the tune more as a celebration of life than a lament for a lost voice. The melody is reverent, with Marsalis and Irby trading ebullient phrases as if reminiscing about a dear friend. It’s a profound exchange with refreshing instance of candor and grace. And it’s hardly the only one. Moments like this abound on Cerulean Canvas, which is as much a dedication to the great saxophonists of yesteryear as it is an encapsulation of Irby’s forward-looking approach.

Rachel Therrien

Why Don’t You Try
(Truth Revolution)

For several years, Quebec-born, Brooklyn-based trumpeter Rachel Therrien has been among the most innovative artists operating at the intersection of jazz and world music. Her geographic reach is awe-inspiring, taking in sounds from New Orleans trad-jazz and Cuban folk to Colombian funk and American rock ’n’ roll and routing them through her own audacious trumpet aesthetic. Therrien—who has toured and recorded with international artists such as percussionist Pedrito Martinez, pianist Roberto Fonseca, trumpeter Claudio Roditi and drummer Tony Allen—hones in on the jazzier elements of world music on her fourth album, Why Don’t You Try, offering 11 gripping originals that place groove and improvisation at the forefront. Fleshing out her sonic vision are drummer Alain Bourgeois, bassist Simon Pagé, pianist Charles Trudel and saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps, each of whom contributes one song apiece to this robust program. (The longtime working ensemble, which bills itself as the Rachel Therrien Quintet, won the Montreal Jazz Festival’s TD Grand Prize Jazz Award in 2015 and the Stingray Jazz Rising Star Award in 2016.) Opener “Spectrum,” written by the leader, gallops along at a blistering tempo. It has all the features of a hard-bop thriller: a highly syncopated melody, whipsaw drumming and alluring improvisational discourses (courtesy of Therrien and Deschamps). Meanwhile, “Demi-Nuit” is loose and free-flowing, with spacey keyboard chords that churn atop Bourgeois’ tempestuous snare groove. And a flute-and-muted-trumpet front line adds mystique to “CRS,” a quietly exotic tune that, while firmly entrenched in Miles Davis-esque fusion, culls together sonic hues from places as distant as Latin America, the Middle East and downtown New York. Therrien will lead a quartet at the CU Jazz Festival in Champaign, Illinois, on Oct. 22, and she’ll perform with her quintet at the Polanco Jazz Festival in Mexico City on Dec. 10.

Sarah Elizabeth Charles

Free Of Form
(Stretch Music/Ropeadope)

The Black Lives Matter movement has informed and/or inspired numerous works of transcendent art, including singer-songwriter Sarah Elizabeth Charles’ third release, Free Of Form, which merges jazz with elements of neo-soul and rock. On “March To Revolution Part II,” Charles delivers the lyric “The time to be passive” sporadically throughout the track, singing it 18 times and then, at the 4:38 mark, she completes the line in a powerful, dramatic way: “The time to be passive … is done.” Charles has said that she began composing “Change To Come” back in 2014, in the wake of Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island, New York. On this track, she delivers these chilling lyrics: “Innocence means nothing anymore/ I have seen my brothers bleed.” The impact of Charles’ words is enhanced by her clarion tone, impressive vocal range and precise diction. Charles’ collaborators here are the members of her longtime band, SCOPE: Jesse Elder (piano, keyboards, Fender Rhodes), Burniss Earl Travis II (bass) and John Davis (drums). Trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who co-produced the album with Charles, contributes to four of the 12 tracks. On the title track, his trumpet starts out as a sonic element woven into the soundscape before it bursts forth with sky-scraping notes, and on “Change To Come,” the instrument adds an emotional lament. Charles wrote or co-wrote every song on the album except for an intense reading of Irish rock band The Cranberries’ 1994 hit “Zombie,” featuring stacked vocals, as she sings both the lead and harmony parts. Charles, whose music would likely appeal to fans of Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato, doesn’t frequently craft melodies that are immediately hummable—but her tunes still get stuck in your head. Charles and SCOPE will play an album-release show at Joe’s Pub in New York on Oct. 9, followed by concerts in Springfield, Massachusetts (Nov. 2) and Cambridge, Massachusetts (Nov. 7).

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